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Our principles for negotiation

Instead of asking whether there will be hard or soft Brexit, as debate is often currently focused, we should concentrate on two questions: Who is Brexit for? And what do we want it to achieve?

Of course we should ensure London remains a pre-eminent global financial centre, but if Brexit does not benefit the parts of Britain that voted for it, or is seen to be a Brexit that benefits certain sectors or demographic groups, it will have failed.

For the negotiations, we should consider the following principles.

Firstly, we should be clear about our priorities. The Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech did this without revealing our playing cards to the world.

Secondly, we need to set the right tone. Mood music matters. We should enter these negotiations in a spirit of co-operation, stressing that we seek a prosperous UK enjoying a good trading and political relationship with a prosperous EU. We do not see the UK-EU negotiations as a zero sum game.

Thirdly, we should understand how the EU negotiates, and identify trade-offs. We should ask for more than we want including demands that are not deal-breakers but can be traded for other gains. They will do the same to us: note Michel Barnier’s ‘demand’ for €60 billion to leave the EU.

The EU will seek to close some markets to British companies. There will also be parts of the existing relationship the UK will seek to leave. While German carmakers or French farmers may want open markets to continue selling their products to the UK, finance firms there may want to erect barriers to UK competitors.

There will be also be areas of mutual interest where we would continue to cooperate, such as on sharing intelligence and some security operations.

Fourth, we should know that the EU is more than the sum of its parts. The EU is not a monolith. The three main EU institutions: the Council (representing the 27 other EU governments), the Commission and the European Parliament will not always agree. Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty says negotiations will be ‘concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament’, but the Council has asked the Commission to do the heavy lifting in negotiations.

While the Council has been trying to sideline the Parliament, UK ministers have met senior MEPs. This is clearly appreciated. While some nations have been hostile in public, I have met senior figures from other EU countries who stress the need for strong relations with the UK. Some have offered to help if negotiations get tough.

Additionally, the UK should be prepared to walk away. We enter negotiations with an intention to succeed, but are prepared to walk away and settle for World Trade Organisation terms if the right deal is not offered.

And finally, it is of pivotal importance that we keep a cool head and a steady hand. Theresa May’s refusal to divulge every detail of her strategy is frustrating EU officials, the opposition, Remoaners, some Brexiteers, and the media for good measure. Too bad, because she is determined to keep calm and do what is best for Britain.

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